The school year is coming to an end, but the debate over the government’s funding formula for the state’s schools continues. WGBH Morning Edition host Joe Mathieu spoke with WGBH News' Bianca Vázquez Toness and Mike Deehan to break down this complicated issue. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.

Joe Mathieu: So we want to strip this story down to the studs here. And Bianca, we're going to start with you at the very beginning and the problem that we're trying to correct.

Bianca Vázquez Toness: Well, there are two problems. The first problem is that there are big gaps in this state when it comes to academic achievement between poor kids and kids of medium and higher incomes, and [between] kids who live in poorer districts and kids who live in districts who have more wealth. There's a lot of research that says that you need more money to do a good job with kids who are poor, and when you look across the state, there's a huge difference in how much money districts are paying for school.

Mathieu: So we're actually rewriting the formula to affect that. Some schools are getting more based on what they need, others get less based on what they need. I'm sure I'm oversimplifying that.

Vázquez Toness: That's right. So 25 years ago, the state recognized that there was a problem in funding. So it came up with a formula and it basically decided there's a minimum amount that every kid needs in this state. Let's call it a Honda Civic. Every kid needs a Honda Civic to be an educated kid. And they set those costs at that time, and they didn't set a maximum. So there were some districts who could only give their kid a Honda Civic, but there are some districts who are giving their kids like the equivalent of Teslas. And in the intervening 25 years, the costs of maintaining those cars have gone up: the cost of health care for teachers, the cost of educating special education students, have gone up. And so the formula has become outdated. At the same time, districts with a lot of money are spending a whole lot more [and] giving kids the equivalent of Tesla educations.

Mathieu: Got it. Mike Deehan, solving this problem is where things get even more complicated.

Mike Deehan: Yes, it is.

Mathieu: There were competing proposals now from Gov. Baker — who we invited to speak with us on the air today — and from Democratic lawmakers. As I said, a lot of stakeholders here. At some point, we're going to have to put these together into a single proposal, but there are a lot of competing plans.

Deehan: Absolutely, and it's better to look at those competing plans as where ideas can come from. It's not [that] it has to be the Senate's plan or it has to be the governor's plan. I think at the end of the day, the legislature is going to craft a compromise bill that may take some tax uses from the Senate plan, but also take some stuff that the governor wants to do. There's all sorts of different things around the supervision of where this money goes. I think though what it ultimately boils down to is raising taxes. And this is something that Beacon Hill is really consumed by right now when it comes to education and transportation. There is acknowledgement — for the first time in about 10 years, from all parties — that taxes need to go up to pay for what we as a state want to pay for, or in this case, what our legislative leaders want to pay for.

Mathieu: We're having this conversation against the backdrop of this Red Line meltdown, which is on the front burner. But this is cooking, too. Gov. Baker says, 'You pass my plan, you don't need to raise taxes.'

Deehan: Yeah. Baker has a plan to invest hundreds of millions into this school funding formula and reform the formula slowly over time, whereas a lot of Democrats — like Sonia Chang-Diaz in the Senate — want to really drastically rewrite all of it based on a commission report that came out a few years ago that said, 'This is the way to do it.' And so we have a bundle of ideas and a bundle of ways to potentially raise the taxes to pay for it — to infuse the billions the system might need — and that is where the debate stands. No one quite knows how much it's going to be tolerable to raise in taxes and where that money should actually go in this theoretical new formula.

Mathieu: Bianca Vázquez Toness, there are hundreds of millions of dollars in differences between all of these plans that we're talking about. [There's] a billion dollars between the governor's plan on the Promise Act, a study from the Budget and Policy Center. Would any of these proposals, if passed, actually solve the problems you outlined?

Vázquez Toness: They might solve some of them. The difference between [Sen.] Sonia Chang-Diaz's bill and the governor's bill goes to help low-income school districts. Between both of the approaches, probably about half of the school districts in the state would see significant benefits. That means half of them won't. And there are some economic troubles in those districts, particularly in rural districts [and] in districts that are losing kids because the economy's bad where they live. And this doesn't address their problems.

Mathieu: How about the gateway cities?

Vázquez Toness: The gateway cities would stand to benefit greatly, especially under the Promise Act.

Mathieu: And to be clear we're talking about two different things here as well: raising the overall amount, but also how it's distributed. Is that correct?

Vázquez Toness: Raising the overall amount and how it's distributed, yes. Especially for poor kids.

Mathieu: Mike Deehan, what's the timeline on this? When could it be done [and] when does it have to be done?

Deehan: Well, that's one of the more politically interesting points because a number of school districts are bringing lawsuits against the state, saying this formula is busted and it's unconstitutional because there is a constitutional right to a proper education. The state's not paying their side of things for a lot of the districts that Bianca just described. So that is putting a pressure on lawmakers — on Senate President Karen Spilka and on House Speaker Robert DeLeo — to really craft that compromise pretty fast. Like I said before, that's getting complicated by this tax hike conversation that Beacon Hill will go as low as possible. But they say over and over again they want to craft a bill this session and get it done. That could mean in the fall at the earliest, or it could mean next year towards the spring. So probably by the time any kind of new money kicks in, it'll be a school year or two.

Mathieu: So it's likely we're starting the next school year, Bianca, without this. Nobody sees that being done for September?

Vázquez Toness: Definitely not.

Mathieu: When you talk to unions, teachers and parents, what level of urgency do you hear in terms of getting it done? Or do [they] just want to get it done right?

Vázquez Toness: School districts like gateway cities want it done immediately.

Mathieu: They want it now. Yesterday.

Vázquez Toness: They want it now. They're cutting programs. They don't have after school programs. They've cut into the meat of their offerings after school.

Mathieu: But they know they'll likely have to wait another year at least to get this done?

Vázquez Toness: Yes, that's clear.